“Life can’t ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer’s lover until death – fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant.” — Edna Ferber
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For three years, I wrote a column called The Care and Feeding of the Girls in the Basement. It was a chronicle of my day to day struggles and rewards with the writing life. Much of it was written during an enormous transition in my life. The column was written for a group of professional, commercial fiction writers. (NINK, for those who might know it.) To my surprise, the columns were quite popular, and I really enjoyed writing it, but after three years, I’d written plenty and gave it up.
The story might have ended there. Except that people kept telling me that they had kept the columns to re-read. They gave them to friends who were feeling discouraged. And because the newsletters are private to the organization, they did not have a wide circulation. Aspiring writers never saw them.
So I decided to collect them for writers–aspiring and published alike–who might find a laugh or inspiration or encouragement in them. There are two volumes of columns, but my ebook genius and I are collecting three books of the most popular class materials for release in the fall. (First, the contemporaries to which I’ve regained the rights–stay tuned).
Without further ado, an excerpt from Book #1
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Beginner’s Mind: Keeping the Faith
from The Girls in the Basement
Talk on one of my email loops has been exploring the changes and ups and downs we all experience after five or ten or thirty years in this business. Several writers are discouraged by crushing career news and financial setbacks and the challenges of living as a writer.
The discussion led to questions of faith. How do we keep going? How do we recover that fire? Where did it come from in the first place? And how did it get lost?
Writer Raphael Cushnir says the dark night of the soul comes to all of us in different ways, but the emotions we experience during that dark night are all the same. A long-time writer who is struggling with reinvention or renewal is struggling with a disturbing set of questions. Was she wrong, all this time, about her vision? Is he, after all, a fool for loving this work, just as cousin Harry and his mother and Aunt Jane have said? Should any of us try to make this our life?
While this discussion was going on, I was also talking with a friend who is beginning to sell to non-fiction markets. He’s been in the music business a long time and wants to write for a living so he can stay home with his wife and daughter. He’s a pretty talented guy. He’ll probably make it, and the writing life can’t be any worse than the music life. We had lost touch years ago, long before he actually made it into the music world and I made it into the writing world, and through the delights of the Internet, we have been spending many happy hours talking about old times and new.
And writing. He always understood creativity. Writing now burns in him the way songs once did.
He sent an email (from Ireland. I love writing that: my friend in Ireland. Very nice of him to end up there) that poured out his desires, his path thus far, what he thinks he might be understanding, what he has yet to figure out.
His longing filled me with a bitter-sweetness, a swift wish to return to the beginning, to the magic. I find myself feeling cautious in my replies, as if he’s just fallen in love and I’m an old married hag, reluctant to douse his fever.
“So, tell me,” he emailed. “How did it happen? How did you sell your first book?”
My flood of memories may be not unlike yours. I was twenty-nine. It was November 22 (never mind the year), just before Thanksgiving. It was a category romance I had called The Phantoms of Autumn, about a classical guitarist and a writer who met on a train journey. My advance was four thousand dollars, which was almost precisely double my annual income as a bowling alley cook and attendant—a job I’d taken to help make sure I stayed focused on writing work—and more than enough to get my phone turned back on.
Beyond the simple facts, of course, are a host of emotions and memories. The late nights with my headphones on while my very young sons and husband slept in their beds. The jumble of undone housework that meant I never, ever allowed anyone to “drop by”. The cloistered life I led during that passionate period when I had no time for anything but the books, the boys, the family.
I remembered, too, how I’d stood in my kitchen a few weeks before that magic phone call, weeping bitterly over a rejection that dashed a very real hope I’d had of making a sale to a literary magazine where the editor liked me. I didn’t know how much longer I could stand to see yet another SASE with my handwriting on the outside, knowing it meant a rejection. My fire, my belief in myself, was dwindling, and I didn’t know how I could keep going on like that, believing when no one else did. When I look back, I’m not sure how I discovered the chutzpah to believe so absolutely that I would sell a book eventually. But I did believe, with a depth of faith that— Continue reading The Girls in the Basement ….now available!